Portal:United States copyright case law

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United States copyright case law

Supreme Court rulings are binding precedent across the United States; Circuit Court rulings are binding within a certain portion of it (the circuit in question); District Court rulings are not binding precedent, but may still be referred to by other courts.

Case name Citation Court Year Subject, important findings
Wheaton v. Peters 33 U.S. (8 Pet.) 591 S. Ct. 1834 There is no such thing as common law copyright and one must observe the formalities to secure a copyright.
Baker v. Selden 101 U.S. 99 S. Ct. 1879 Idea-expression divide.
Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony 111 U.S. 53 S. Ct. 1884 Extended copyright protection to photography.
Banks v. Manchester 128 U.S. 244 S. Ct. 1888 Expressions of law cannot be copyrighted.
Bobbs-Merrill Co v. Straus 210 U.S. 339 S. Ct. 1908 No license to use copyrighted material. License cannot extend holder’s rights beyond statute defined by Congress.
Bauer & Cie. v. O'Donnell 229 U.S. 1 S. Ct. 1913 Differences between patent and copyright defined also prohibits a license from extending holder’s rights beyond statute.
Macmillan Co. v. King 223 F. 862 D. Mass. 1914 Limits of fair use with respect to an educational context and to summaries.
Nichols v. Universal Pictures Co. 45 F.2d 119 2d Cir. 1930 No copyright for “stock characters”.
Shostakovich v. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. 196 Misc. 67, 80 N.Y.S.2d 575 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1948), aff'd 275 A.D. 692, 87 N.Y.S.2d 430 (1949) N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1948–9 No moral rights in public domain works.
National Comics Publications v. Fawcett Publications 191 F.2d 594 (1951), clarified 198 F.2d 927 (1952) 2d Cir. 1951–2 Derivative works; an author does not forfeit his copyright to a piece of intellectual property if his work is contracted to another who fails to properly copyright works which incorporate the original property (obsoleted by Copyright Act of 1976).
Irving Berlin et al. v. E.C. Publications, Inc. 329 F. 2d 541 2d Cir. 1964 Parody.
Williams & Wilkins Co. v. United States 487 F.2d 1345 Ct. Cl. 1973 Libraries’ photocopying for research was fair use.
Stern Electronics, Inc. v. Kaufman 669 F.2d 852 2d Cir. 1982 Copyright on computer programs includes images and sounds as well as the computer code.
Apple Computer, Inc. v. Franklin Computer Corp. 714 F.2d 1240 3rd Cir. 1983 Computer software is protected by copyright (affirmed and obsoleted by subsequent legislation).
Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc. (the "Betamax case") 464 U.S. 417 S. Ct. 1984 Products with substantial non-infringing uses (e.g. video recorders) may be sold even if they can be used to infringe.
Dowling v. United States 473 U.S. 207 S. Ct. 1985 Copyright infringement is not theft, conversion, or fraud; illegally made copies are not stolen goods.
Harper & Row v. Nation Enterprises 471 U.S. 539 S. Ct. 1985 The interest served by republication of a public figure's account of an event is not sufficient to permit nontransformative fair use.
Hasbro Bradley, Inc. v. Sparkle Toys, Inc. 780 F.2d 189 2d Cir. 1985 Rule of the shorter term not applied to toys without an overseas copyright
Fisher v. Dees 794 F.2d 432 9th Cir. 1986 Parody of song performance is legitimate fair use
Steinberg v. Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. 663 F. Supp. 706 S.D.N.Y. 1987 Derivative works.
Anderson v. Stallone 11 USPQ2D 1161 C.D. Cal 1989 Derivative works.
Community for Creative Non-Violence v. Reid 490 U.S. 730 S. Ct. 1989 Works made for hire.
Basic Books, Inc. v. Kinko's Graphics Corporation 758 F. Supp. 1522 S.D.N.Y. 1991 Articles copied for educational use are not necessarily fair use.
Advent Sys. Ltd. v. Unisys Corp 925 F.2d 670 3d Cir. 1991 The sale of software is the sale of a good within the meaning of the Uniform Commercial Code.
Downriver Internists v. Harris Corp 929 F.2d 1147, 1150 6th Cir. 1991 The sale of software is the sale of a good within the meaning of the Uniform Commercial Code.
Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service 499 U.S. 340 S. Ct. 1991 "Sweat of the brow" alone is not sufficient to bestow copyright.
Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records, Inc. 780 F. Supp. 182 S.D.N.Y. 1991 Music sampling is generally copyright infringement.
Step-Saver Data Systems, Inc. v. Wyse Technology 939 F.2d 91 3rd Cir. 1991 The need to characterize the transaction as a license to use software is “largely anachronistic”.
Computer Associates Int. Inc. v. Altai Inc. 982 F.2d 693 2d Cir. 1992 “Substantial similarity” is required for copyright infringement to occur.
Lewis Galoob Toys, Inc. v. Nintendo of America, Inc. 780 F. Supp. 1283 9th Cir. 1992 Consumers may modify purchased computer games for their own use.
Rogers v. Koons 960 F.2d 301 2d Cir. 1992 Fair use and parody.
MAI Systems Corp. v. Peak Computer, Inc. 991 F.2d 511 9th Cir. 1993 RAM ("working memory") copies of computer programs are governed by copyright.
Apple Computer, Inc. v. Microsoft Corp. 35 F.3d 1435 9th Cir. 1994 Certain components of computer programs' graphical user interfaces are not copyrightable.
Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. 510 U.S. 569 S. Ct. 1994 Commercial parody can be fair use.
Carter v. Helmsley-Spear Inc. 861 F. Supp. 303 S.D.N.Y. 1994 Interpreting moral rights provisions of U.S. Visual Artists Rights Act (overturned for other reasons: 71 F.3d 77 (2d Cir. 1995), cert. denied 116 S. Ct. 1824 (1996)).
Lotus v. Borland 49 F.3d 807 1st Cir. 1995 Software interfaces per se are "methods of operation" and are not covered by copyright.
Self-Realization Fellowship Church v. Ananda Church 59 F.3d 902, 910 9th Cir. 1995 Renewal rights are not assignable.
Applied Info. Mgmt., Inc, v. Icart 976 Supp. 149, 155 E.D.N.Y. 1997 The sale of software is the sale of a good. Case was dropped.
Itar-Tass Russian News Agency v. Russian Kurier, Inc. 153 F.3d 82 2d Cir. 1998 Jurisdiction with closest association to putative owner applies to determine copyright ownership.
Bridgeman Art Library Ltd. v. Corel Corporation 36 F. Supp. 2d 191 S.D.N.Y. 1999 "Slavish copying" is inherently uncreative and cannot confer copyright.
Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr., Inc. v. CBS, Inc. 194 F.3d 1211 11th Cir. 1999 Giving a public speech is not public-domain publication under the Copyright Act of 1909.
Novell, Inc. v. CPU Distrib., Inc. 2000 US Dist. Lexis. 9975 SD Tex. 2000 The first-sale doctrine applies to computer software.
UMG v. MP3.com 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5761 S.D.N.Y. 2000 Distribution of copyrighted music without permission of the copyright holders is infringement even if the downloader already owns a copy of the music.
A & M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc. 239 F.3d 1004 9th Cir. 2001 Knowingly failing to take steps to prevent infringement, while benefiting from said infringement, is grounds for contributory infringement. Also, users of file-sharing services infringe by both uploading and downloading works without permission.
New York Times Company v. Tasini 533 U.S. 483 S. Ct. 2001 Freelance journalists did not grant electronic republication rights for collective work.
SoftMan Products Co. v. Adobe Systems Inc. CV 00-04161 DDP (AJWx) C.D. Cal. 2001 The first-sale doctrine applies to computer software and cannot be waived or taken away through an end-user license agreement.
Suntrust v. Houghton Mifflin 252 F. 3d 1165 11th Cir. 2001 Parody and fair use.
Universal v. Reimerdes 273 F.3d 429 2d Cir. 2001 Affirmed the anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Veeck v. Southern Bldg. Code Cong. Int'l 241 F.3d 398, 416 5th Cir. 2001 A private organization cannot assert copyright protection for its model codes, after the models have been adopted by a legislative body and become the law.
Kelly v. Arriba Soft Corporation 280 F.3d 934 3d Cir. 2002 Thumbnails and inline linking can be fair use.
Dastar Corp. v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. 539 U.S. 23 S. Ct. 2003 Trademark cannot preserve rights to a public domain work.
Eldred v. Ashcroft 537 U.S. 186 S. Ct. 2003 Congress may retroactively extend the duration of works still under copyright, as long as the extension is limited.
CoStar Group v. LoopNet 373 F.3d 544 4th Cir. 2004 Internet service provider was found liable for copyright infringement of photographs of commercial real estate by allowing subscribers to post the photographs on the provider's website.
Arizona Cartridge Remanufacturers Association Inc. v. Lexmark International Inc. 03-16987 D.C. No. CV-01-04626SBA/JL OPINION 9th Cir. 2005 End User License Agreements on a physical box can be binding on consumers who signal their acceptance of the license agreement by opening the box.
Golan v. Gonzales
(in progress)
No. 01-B-1854, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6800 D.Co. 2005.
10th Cir.
MGM Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd. 545 U.S., 125 S. Ct. 2764 S. Ct. 2005 Distributors of peer-to-peer file-sharing software can be liable for copyright infringement if there are "affirmative steps taken to foster infringement".
Capitol Records, Inc. v. Naxos of America, Inc. 4 N.Y.3d 540 2d Cir. 2005 Rule of the shorter term not applied for sound recordings, pre-1972 when the works were a special case covered by state law and not federal jurisdiction
Perfect 10 v. Google Inc CASE NO. CV 04-9484 AHM (SHx) C.D. Cal. 2006 Thumbnails in Web searches were fair use. Framed inline images of full size were not infringing copies. (9th circuit reversed the DC's holding of no Fair Use)
Meshwerks, Inc. v. Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc., et al. 528 F.3d 1258 (10th Cir. 2008) 10th Cir. 2008 3D models of physical objects, if faithfully and accurately representing the original, are not original enough to warrant copyright protection

See also